Myrtle Beach International Airport had its busiest May ever, and officials expect that momentum to continue headed into the busy summer season.
May marked the third consecutive month of increases in passenger numbers at MYR compared to the same months last year, thanks to additional seats through new destinations and some seasonal flights starting earlier than usual this year.
So far this year, MYR has had the most seats ever flying into the market thanks to new destinations and shifted schedules, airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said. For example, Spirit Airlines started some of its seasonal flights earlier than usual, WestJet resumed its flights to Canada earlier than in its 2013 inaugural year and Allegiant Air added four destinations, doubling the number of markets it serves from Myrtle Beach.
About 97,008 passengers flew into Myrtle Beach in May, up about 6 percent over May 2013 and breaking the previous record of the roughly 96,000 incoming passengers in May 2011, which went on to be a record year for the airport, according to airport statistics. Passenger numbers also are up for the first five months of the year, compared to the same period last year.
“The increase in passenger numbers is directly related to increased capacity,” said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which for years has promoted the Grand Strand in markets with air service to Myrtle Beach. “With more inbound seats, we are able to expand our promotional efforts in origin markets and bring more visitors to the area.”
The chamber, working with marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, recently stepped up its promotion in markets that had new service to Myrtle Beach mainly with TV and online ads, Dean said. The chamber also did familiarization tours for folks in some of those markets, which he says has boosted media coverage there and could entice people to visit.
“We’ve nearly doubled our advertising in all new air service markets,” Dean said.
In late May, Allegiant added flights to four new destinations: Lexington, Ky.; Syracuse, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, and Cincinnati.
Through May this year, 312,723 passengers have flown into Myrtle Beach, up about 6.5 percent over the same five months last year, according to airport statistics.
The airport had a rough start in 2014 with year-over-year declines in January and February, which officials blamed on the winter-weather cancellations. During the first three months of the year, U.S. airlines canceled the most flights in the 20 years the government has collected the data, most of them because of the weather.
But traffic in Myrtle Beach has improved the past two months as several airlines including Spirit Airlines — which makes up half the airport’s passenger numbers — kicked in seasonal flights earlier than usual and more stability in the airline industry has led carriers to boost their presence in markets such as Myrtle Beach, Lovell said.
The airport had its busiest March and April in the past six and seven years, followed by the record May. Expect more of the same during the busy summer season, officials said.
“With the increased capacity, we anticipate traffic will continue to outpace last year’s numbers through the summer, and hopefully into the fall season,” Dean said.
The extra seat capacity wouldn’t make a difference if there wasn’t the demand from travelers coming to Myrtle Beach to fill those seats, Lovell said.
“It’s all about having a strong market,” he said.
The airport has and is getting a number of upgrades, in part to keep up with growing demand. A $118 million terminal opened in April 2013, new parking spaces were added in May and more are on the way and work is set to begin later this year to improve the runway.
Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or follow on Twitter @TSN_dawnbryant.